You cannot postpone poverty - sustainable community organisations needed
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OPINION: The pandemic has amplified the lack of a proper national framework for funding of community-based organisations and a lack of consistency in funding non-profit organisations in the country.
by Pinampi Maano
Covid-19 has highlighted the critical role community organisations can play in health support – from health interventions to critical research and development engagement.
But the pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on the sustainability of such organisations, and it is time for the government to ensure the non-profit organisations (NPOs) are part of the post-Covid recovery plan.
When South Africa went into lockdown at the start of the pandemic, many civil society organisations were unable to continue providing critical health services on behalf of the government. Many non-governmental organisations were not paid as government entities struggled to confirm services delivery.
We learned the hard way that you cannot postpone poverty. While the government delayed payments for the delivery of services for government programmes in order to confirm quality assurance, civil society could not hold the government accountable for their non-delivery.
The pandemic has amplified the lack of a proper national framework for funding of community-based organisations and a lack of consistency in funding non-profit organisations in the country.
It is, therefore, time to review the outdated NPO Act of 1997. We must provide adequate support for those working on the ground. The act came into effect on September 1, 1998 (Gazette 19199 of 31 August 1998). The world has since changed, and we need an act that talks to the current state of affairs. Even the millennium development goals are now referred to as sustainable development goals, which denote the essence of adaptability to the ever-changing socio-economic matters.
This lack of support has the impact of undermining the very sustainability we hope that NPOs will achieve. For example, the government, which is able to pay stipends and allowances, often attract the best talent away from community boards where they volunteer in order to serve on government boards in paid positions.
On the other hand, community-based organisations struggle to attract or have competent boards with the right skills due to the lack of allowances. Many allege that passion cannot pay bills, hence, they opt to sit on the government boards where they get paid for their time. In this way, community organisations end up competing with the government for people with the right skills, knowledge and experience.
Another issue hampering community organisation sustainability is the limited culture of volunteerism. While many people do required internships at community organisations during their studies, few return to volunteer without pay once they have qualified. This strips organisations of critical skills.
Clearly, community organisations cannot build sustainability without funds. They cannot support government health research and development initiatives without sustainability mechanisms.
My concern is that since NPOs are not making a profit, why don’t we have a national framework of reimbursement for level of effort? The government employs public servants, and they get paid according to levels, and this culture is uniform. However, the same cannot be said about NPOs.
NPOs clearly complement the efforts of the Government in executing the mandate of service delivery, and yet exploitation continues to be the order of the day.
Twenty-seven years post-democracy, a transformation agenda remains a pipe dream within the NPO Sector. But who is to blame? Who needs to correct the abnormality? We are here, as the sector, willing to work with anyone bold enough to balance the equation. Otherwise, history remains our biggest and objective critic.
Government must, therefore, take the lead in strengthening the non-profit sector, and communities must work to support and sustain these organisations so that we can promote a proper framework for long-term sustainability.
We can start by having a barometer that tracks the progress of community organisations in order to highlight the gaps in compliance, capacity and support. This will allow the government and donors to make evidence-based decisions on where and how to invest their support.
Apart from funding, the government should support sustainability efforts with capacity building, mentorship and supportive collaborations so that community organisations can shift from start-up to compliance and eventually sustainability.
Supporting community-based organisations to support social justice interventions is a win-win situation. Strong community organisations not only help the government meet its delivery goals, but helps communities help themselves.
And when that happens, we all win.
*Maano is the Executive Director of Kgorogo Social Investments; NW-PCA Co- Chair and Civil Society Forum Chairperson in the North West Province.
**The views expressed here is not necessarily the views of IOL.